Specialists for a second opinion

Second medical opinion refers to a second independent assessment of first medical findings by a second physician. The second opinion may refer to a disease or a measure of treatment. Obtaining a second opinion may prevent a wrong diagnosis or may give the patient a better feeling by simply eliminating doubts about the findings.

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When should a second opinion be obtained?

Particularly, prior to any severe therapeutic interventions, it is worth asking a second doctor for his/her opinion when it comes to choosing from several therapeutic possibilities. In the case of any other surgical intervention which requires a longer hospital stay or in case of a treatment with drugs known to have many adverse effects, it may be sensible to have the necessity assessed by two doctors. 

In some cases, the attending doctor himself/herself will suggest to consult another doctor for a second opinion. Often enough, however, the second doctor is consulted upon the patient's own initiative.

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Obligations of the attending doctor when a second opinion is requested

The Charter of Patients’ Rights in Germany (issued by the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and by the Federal Ministry of Justice) defines that patients have a right to obtain a second opinion, which means that doctors have to co-operate if a patient requests an assessment by a second independent doctor.

The attending doctor is obligated to give the patient access to the patient documents as well as to give him or her copies or print-outs (against reimbursement of costs). Original documents do not have to be handed out. Subjective records of the doctor and possibly records within the framework of psychiatric treatment are excluded from the right to inspection.

If the patient brings photocopies or printouts of the treatment documents to the appointment with the second doctor, diagnostic measures often do not have to be repeated.

Costs incurred for a second opinion

The question as to who will have to bear the costs for obtaining the second opinion cannot be answered uniformly. In order to avoid negative surprises, the statutory or private health insurance should be asked prior to seeing the second doctor as to whether the costs will be borne, and in the affirmative whether certain conditions have to be observed. In practice, many patients do not tell the second doctor that a diagnosis has been obtained already which causes the examination by this doctor to be settled like a first examination by the health insurance. The patient is free to obtain the second opinion from any doctor he wishes. In Germany patients have the right to free choice of medical practitioners.